Removing Goodwin's knighthood was an act of crude populism

The government has behaved in an arbitrary and unprincipled fashion.

Few will be saddened by the withdrawal of Fred Goodwin's knighthood, awarded, absurdly, for "services to banking". But there was much to regret in the manner of its removal. As Alistair Darling laments in today's Times (£), rather than establishing a clear set of principles for awarding and revoking honours, the government has behaved in an arbitrary fashion. There was more than a whiff of mob rule about yesterday's decision, something that should make any liberal feel queasy.

Goodwin has not been convicted of any crime nor has he been "censured, struck off etc by the relevant professional or other regulatory authority" - the standard criteria for the removal of honours. Contrary to what some now claim, the report by the Financial Services Authority into the collapse of RBS did not censure Goodwin personally. Are we sure that Fred the Shred belongs in the same class as Mugabe and Ceausescu?

And what of the honours awarded to former RBS chairman Sir Tom McKillop or former Lloyds chairman Sir Victor Blank? Or the honorary knighthood awarded to Alan Greenspan, the man more responsible than any other for the financial architecture that collapsed in 2008. Are their titles now to be removed? If so, the government should proceed on the basis of principle, not populist whim.

Conservative deputy chairman Michael Fallon's assertion on the Today programme that the Forfeiture Committee is "entirely independent of politicians" does not bear scrutiny. The removal of Goodwin's knighthood could not have come at a more convenient moment for Cameron, who broke with precedent to signal his approval of the move. Playing catch-up with Ed Miliband on "responsible capitalism", he has gleefully thrown some red meat to the mob.

Myself, I believe that Goodwin's knighthood should have stood as a monument to the folly of a political class bedazzled by high finance. Instead, the Conservative Party, funded as it is by the largesse of the City of London, has removed Goodwin's honour, whilst simultaneously ensuring that the system that produced him continues as before.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.